5 Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Child Back to School

8/31/2015

The beginning of a new school year is always hectic. I know my own household is busy with back to school shopping, organizing supplies, nailing down schedules and completing all the required forms. Something that may drop off your to-do list is your child’s physical environment and the impact it can have on them, not just in the upcoming academic year, but for years to come.  
 
Children spend hours at schools, daycare centers, afterschool programs and outdoor play areas, so it’s important to make sure these are safe places. Here are 5 questions to ask before sending your children back to school
 
1. When was the school built? 
 
Older schools (and daycare or afterschool facilities) are more likely to have paint that contains lead or other heavy metals such as chromium or mercury.  The dust from these heavy metals can then be inhaled, or more likely ingested when they settle on surfaces, floors and desks. If you think any building your child frequents was built before 1978, ask if the paint has ever been tested for lead, and what follow-up measures were taken.  
 
2.  What’s in the drinking water? 
 
While the drinking water itself may not be an issue (confirm with the school’s water supplier), you need to ask about the water pipes that deliver the water to the water fountains. Corrosion of older pipes can contaminate drinking water with lead and other heavy metals that are harmful to your child. Lead levels in school drinking water can rise when long periods of nonuse are followed by heavy consumption.1 Ask your school what the pipes are made of and if the water has ever been tested. 
 
3. How often is the playground tested for environmental hazards? 
 
Your child may get more than a few bumps and bruises at recess. Heavy metals, such as lead, can be present in the paint on the play equipment or in the soil. How old is the playground equipment? Has it, and the soil, ever been tested? 
 
4. What toys will your child play with at school? 
 
Older plastic and painted toys, especially imported ones, may contain unacceptable levels of lead.  Every year children’s products are recalled for a number of hazards, ranging from faulty zippers to excessive levels of toxins Ask the teacher or program director if they stay up-to-date on the toy recall list?  
 
5. What is your child’s lunch packed in? 
 
If you’re making your child’s lunch, chances are you are packing it in a lunch box. And if that lunch box is made of vinyl, you could be exposing your child to lead. (Lead is used to keep the vinyl stable.) In 2005, thousands of vinyl lunch boxes were recalled due to elevated lead levels.2  Visit Safemama.com for the 2015 Lunch Gear Cheat Sheet.  
 
Don’t feel bad asking these questions. The longer a child is exposed to lead, the more permanent damage he/she will suffer. 

 
1 Levin R., Brown, M.J., et. al. (2008). Lead Exposures in US Children, 2008: Implications for Prevention. Environ Health Perspect, 16(10), 1285-93. 
2 http://www.consumeraffairs.com/recalls04/2005/ny_lunch_boxes.html 

 

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